Thursday, April 21, 2011

Flying Radar in the Past and Present - Part III

Read first and second parts.

Role of AWACS aircraft in the modern air force can not be overestimated. Without these aircraft are inconceivable today any large-scale air operations, and flying radar capabilities have increased significantly. Improving avionics, its miniaturization have made a real appearance of numerous variants of these machines, based on light and medium platforms, its characteristics are not inferior to the heavier counterparts.

Using AWACS aircraft in a centralized system of control and communication is vital to any country which claims to possess advanced military forces. Modern aircraft of this class are able to detect targets in the air, surface water, ground and allow you to control the actions of diverse forces in real time. Without exaggerating, we can say that the presence of these planes in the Air Force today is one of the essential traits of their compliance with the requirements of the 21st century.


New Aspirations

Importance attached to AWACS can easily be understood by studying their distribution in the hottest regions of the world, particularly in Asia, where a number of countries, both large and small, acquires, or attempts to establish their own production. Today the region presents the most modern machines AWACS, and their example we can study the development of the concept in general. In this case, in addition to the traditional main supplier of such equipment - the USA - there are new manufacturers: Sweden, Brazil, China, Israel. Unfortunately, by the active players on the market today Russia is limited in rank, and this issue will be discussed below.

Israeli company IAI, propelling system Phalcon (distorted Falcon - Falcon, an abbreviation of the phrase Phased-Array, L-band, CONformal), can be called one of the most active players on the market today flying radars. First of all, it should be noted the contract for the supply of aircraft A-50EI for the Indian Air Force, which currently have three devices of this type, and three more should receive in the next few years. This is an export version of the Russian flying A-50 radar, ground radar equipment which is IAI EL/M-2075 Phalcon phased array, capable of detecting targets at a distance of 450 kilometers. Machine equipment, in addition, allows for electronic surveillance, including monitoring of communications of the enemy.

Israeli technologies greatly interest China, for which as early as the 90's was developed the version A-50I, also equipped with Israeli radar. Exports to China did not take place because of U.S. pressure on Israel, but apparently China has managed to get a number of key technologies, which allowed itself to develop a flying radar on the basis of all of the same IL-76.And now they are five in China, not counting smaller KJ-200, but talking about them will go later.

Israeli equipment is also used in aircraft G550 AEW Singapore Air Force, received four such machines. They are distinguished by an unusual shape - the main radar antenna located along the sides of the aircraft in conformal radome. It should be noted that the G550 AEW, being much lighter and smaller than A-50 or E-3, almost equal to them in capabilities of equipment and greatly exceeds the obsolescent E-2C, while enjoying the impressive flight duration.Volume of fuel tanks G550 provides takeoff weight of 42 tons of nine-hour patrols at a distance of one hundred miles from the base. Among the advantages of G550 can note the minimum time the signal from the radar antenna on the screen of the operator (only 2-4 seconds), which increases the system capabilities to manage the battle, when things have to be solved in instant moments. It is worth noting also the following fact: the miniaturization of electronic equipment, first allowed to place everything you need in a fairly modest in terms of the fuselage of a business jet, and secondly, leave enough space to accommodate an impressive radio-technical crew of 20 persons, thus ensuring optimum load operators.

Looking at the G550 and other members of the third generation of the concept of Early Warning, you will notice another circumstance: the use of conformal phased array antennas, in some cases allowed to abandon the traditional rotodoma - mushroom dome of large diameter above the fuselage, while retaining the all-round visibility radar. Placement of antennas in a conformal fairings on the sides or in a relatively compact compared to the dorsal rotodomom plants improves aerodynamic quality and not much effect on aircraft performance machines.

Speaking about the new generation AWACS aircraft, it should be noted Swedish proposal: radar from Ericsson Erieye phased-array that is installed on compact turboprop and turbojet aircraft - from the EMB-145 to SAAB-340. Acquired Saab-340AEW Thailand, received them complete with Swedish fighter JAS-39 Gripen. Apart from Thailand, Pakistan ordered four SAAB-2000 AEW. Three of these aircraft have already been received, another is due in June 2011. This contract, signed in 2006 by Pakistan , was in response to purchase by India of Russian-Israeli platform "Falcon."

"The Swedes, like other modern machines AEW, are used to patrol the borders, territorial waters, air traffic control and various other tasks. Among other things, you can select specific projects for the Western "humanitarian" focus: Swedish aircraft equipment allows their use for environmental monitoring, controlling pollution of the atmosphere and surface. In today's "humanitarian" handouts is not declared, but implied the possibility to use such aircraft for radiochemical intelligence in conflict with the use of weapons of mass destruction. It should be noted that in Asia, such a conflict or a single application of WMD is not excluded.


Successful copy

We have already mentioned the flying radar PLA Air Force, and they can tell in some detail.The main engine of China AWACS is KJ-2000 - China's implementation of the Project A-50I from the Russian platform IL-76 and copied the Israeli radar "Falcon." In addition to four KJ-2000 aircrafts, China also built Y-8 (Shaanxi Aircraft Company copy of the Soviet AN-12). Basic equipment here is a copy of the Swedish radar Erieye. China plans coordinated activities of its AWACS platforms. It is assumed that the KJ-2000 will find application as a good detection system, transferring information on patrolling from which to manage aviation operations. Tested in real actions the system has not yet passed, and how she showed herself to exercise, little is known. Therefore, to say how well it will be implemented, it is difficult.

Based on the KJ-2000; Pakistan Air Force received aircraft designed ZDK-03 with a few hardware modifications. According to available information, Pakistani Air Force have one such machine.


Saving positions

Despite the emergence in the 1990-2000 a large number of new players, the leader for AWACS manufacture remain the United States. Among their projects built using next-generation radar, we can highlight the aircraft B-737 AEW&C with radar developed by Northrop Grumman. Radar with a phased array antenna is placed in a compact, nonrotating dorsal fairing.

B-737 is supplied to overseas customers. To date, built 12 such vehicles for the Air Force Turkey, Australia and South Korea, has not ruled out their supply of the European NATO countries.

Another new system of American-made AWACS aircraft began E-2D Advanced Hawkeye, which should replace the decks of U.S. aircraft carriers aging E-2C . E-2D is very similar to its predecessor, but its equipment is completely replaced. The plane has received a radar with phased array, and the amount of problems solved has increased markedly, in particular, it can be used in the missile defense system by providing target designation for the missile SM-3 interceptor. Over the next 20 years, the U.S. plans to build 75 E-2D, completely replacing the existing fleet of decked AEW.


Domestic Realities

At first glance, with Russian engines AEW all is seemingly well: A-50 have a relatively "fresh" for heavy aircraft age, not more than three decades, path is available for the modernization project of the A-50U, the products created based on the Russian platform, shipped abroad.

If, however, to assess the state of affairs comprehensively and objectively, it can be called critical. The main problems in this area are as follows: A-50U is behind in capabilities of its equipment relative to the proposed planes on the market today, including AWACS developed based on the Russian platform, and the modernization of the domestic apparatus AEW is very late - the existing 19 vehicles will be converted to standard A-50U to the end of the decade. Modernization of the A-50 very significantly raised its capacity to process information and control the actions of diverse forces. However, the "heart" of the machine remains the radar with a parabolic antenna array, capacity and reliability by comparison with modern phased array radar is objectively low. Therefore, Indian and Chinese Air Force opted for the Israeli radar as a basis for their AWACS.  Information on potential AWACS aircraft for Russian Air Force in the most general terms, are unclear.

Unfortunately, in the preparation of the above material II was unable to obtain comment from specialists of JSC "Concern" Vega ", a provider of radar for domestic  AWACS since the Tu-126. Obviously, for the elimination of existing problems requires efforts from both the state and by the manufacturers. In this case, strategic decisions must be made very soon, otherwise the gap will become precarious.

It seems that Russia needs modern AWACS aircraft based on a more economical and less expensive platform than IL-76 (taking into account the increase in the cost of this machine for the resumption of production in Ulyanovsk under the symbol IL-476). On the role of such a platform just begs the Tu-204 civilian perspective is still very vague, and as a basis for military boards of special purpose, it could well remain in the series, while maintaining the load capacities. Just as the development of Russia's new generation system is obviously lagging behind, in line with the new concept of military procurement, implying the possibility of acquiring armaments abroad, we can consider the establishment on the basis of the Tu-204 AWACS aircraft with Israeli complex, "Falcon." Novelty, given that both the plane and the complex is already in place, might go to a series already in the next 4-5 years, complementing the A-50 and A-50U. Later, this aircraft would have to get the Russian complex, as its development is completed.

Serious gap in the domestic line of aircraft is the lack of a "compact" AWACS aircraft that could compete with machines based on the platform of the Saab and Embraer (Brazilian based). In addition, the "compact" flying radar is vital for domestic Navy as soon as it is going to develop a carrier component. Opportunity to modernize, "Admiral Kuznetsov", cannot be carried out by replacing existing AEW helicopter Ka-31 or the equipment for flight characteristics.Moreover, given the market size of modern light aircraft AWACS, the presence of such a machine would increase the export potential of Russian aircraft.

I'd like to hope that it is actually not the case and domestic developers are almost ready to reply to competitors in the form of a modern complex with a new AEW radar, which can be put into production in the coming years, and the state on behalf of the Ministry of Defense is already funding the relevant works. However, in practice for the past two decades, the veil of silence, euphemistically referred to as a state secret, is especially thick when it is necessary to disguise the absence of any progress, and on the contrary - the presence of successes is immediately reflected in the information sphere.


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